“Perhaps they know where Sallah is.”
“Of course they don’t,” Elezar grumbled. “Even is they did, they cannot be trusted to take us to her.”
“We can hear her scream sometimes,” one of the faeries said, fluttering her iridescent black wings. Her voice sounded much light any other faerie’s, high and playful, but Zarrek suspected that her form of play was much more troublesome.
“I wonder what the wraith is doing to her,” another one wondered out loud.
Several other faeries spoke at once, most of their words too jumbled together to understand, but from what thy could pick out, it was about Sallah and the young boy.
“Do not speak as though you care,” the older man told them. “I know very well that you do not. We have to go, Zarrek. Do not waste your time with them.”
The young prince delayed for only a moment, looking at each of the faeries, before turning away to follow Elezar. He was only a few steps down the path when he heard wings flapping, then the hooting of the owl. It sounded closer now. Zarrek paid it no mind and kept of walking.
Then the hooting grew louder, and he could feel the wind from its beating wings on his skin. As soon as he felt its claws, he regretted ignoring it. The owl swooped in close, raking across his neck before flying away. Zarrek shouted, placing his hand over the cuts that were left behind.
Elezar turned around, saw the prince, and acted instantly. His broadsword drawn, he raced past Zarrek. His blade caught the owl even as it beat its wings to fly higher, and he let out a mighty battle cry. Zarrek blinked as he watch the older man plunge his sword into the trunk of a nearby tree, pinning the bird with it.
“How badly are you bleeding?” Elezar asked him.
Zarrek looked down at his fingers. They were coated with blood, but it was no mortal wound. He pulled a cloth from his belt-pouch to daub it.
“It’s just an owl, but its claws are like razors,” the young prince said.
“You cannot take the creatures out here so lightly,” Elezar warned him. “That black owl is completely different from what Onsira– or any other kingdom, for that matter– has in its trees. It’s a Night Piercer Owl, and those claws will poison you as soon as let you bleed to death.”
“I suppose it was twisted to serve Métius,” Zarrek added, his voice taking on somewhat of a complaining tone.
“Twisted, or created. It does not matter. I only hope that it did not poison you enough to actually affect you. It usually goes after rabbits, but it can find the weak points in your armor if it feels that you are enough of an intruder.”
“Never mind the poison” Zarrek told him. “Let’s get to this tomb that you mentions and get Sallah and your son out of there.”
Elezar nodded, and with a deep grunt he pulled his sword out of the cypress tree, letting the owl drop to the ground, and wiped it across his tabard. Had it been a darker shade of grey, it might have made it harder to see the filth he had spread onto it, but Zarrek supposed that was the least of their worries. That was when he realized something else.
“Wait just a moment,” he told Elezar. Zarrek loosened the bracer on his left arm and pulled back his sleeve. He lifted the clothe from his neck and ran his fingertips through the blood, then traced the blood over a smoke-colored scar. “Klleth’tan vijnaya galth’zehr, Bazalus!”
The shadow beast appeared beside him from shadowy tendrils that seeped from the scar, as did the chain that linked then together, just as he had so many times before. Bazalus crouched low when he saw Elezar, giving him a wary growl. Zarrek snapped the chain and ordered the beast to sit. It obeyed without question.
“We are far from your home, master,” Bazalus noted. “Are you on a quest?”
“We are in Thiizav,” Zarrek told it. “I can to help Elezar. Your orders are to keep him safe as well as myself.”
“As you command,” the creature replied. He looked over the older man, then glanced around himself. “There are many dangering things in the swampland forests, master.”
“So I have learned,” Zarrek replied, the displeasure in his voice evident. “I expect you to keep any other creatures away from us. Now let us be off.”
“Yes, master,” Bazalus said, and he followed them both as they continued along the path.
“You can summon shadow beasts now,” Elezar said as they kept moving.
“Only this one,” Zarrek replied. “He took a long time to train.”
“I can imagine why.”
“Are you going to say the same thing that everyone else does?” Zarrek asked, clearly frustrated. “That I fully submit to Métius?”
“That is why you came all this way, isn’t it?” Elezar asked. “You use the Dark One’s power, but you will not worship him. You continue to make things hard one yourself regardless of how many challenges you face.”
“I am my own man,” Zarrek replied.
“You keep insisting that,” the older man told him, “yet you keep going to him for power. Look ahead; there it is.”
Just around another curve in the path, the entrance of the tomb stood. It looked like a small stone house, a column at each corner, the as they drew closer he could see that each one was damaged. The stone-work seemed to be decaying, and even the wrought-iron gate that covered the doors was bent and rusting.
“This building must be ancient,” Zarrek breathed as he took it all in.
Elezar nodded. “The villagers say that it was built far back in the ages before the dead were buried with the willows.”
“That makes at least two thousand years old,” the young prince said. The he noticed the eaves of the roof. “What is that hanging from the roof?”
“Thrall bats,” Elezar grumbled. “Dozens of them, it looks like.”
Zarrek remembered all too clearly the last time he’d had to deal with such creatures. Being bitten by them meant that he would fall under control of some other master, giving up his own will until their venom wore off. Métius often used thrall bats to turn allies into enemies, and to force individuals to take their own lives in very unpleasant ways. The prince had no interest in being bitten. He check his armor, pulled his gloves on, and let down the face cover of his helmet.